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Offbeat: Area musicians aspire to engage community through unique projects

Local professional musicians Debora Harris, Stephanie Carlson and Sonja Harasim each received a Jade Presents Arts Partnership grant, given through The Arts Partnership, in recognition of their outstanding talent in December. Chelsey Engelhard / The Arts Partnership1 / 4
Oboist Stephanie Carlson. Courtesy Mark Anthony of Visionaries Photography / Special to The Forum2 / 4
Flutist Debora Harris. Courtesy Haney's Photography / Special to The Forum3 / 4
Violinist Sonja Harasim. Courtesy Richie Hawley / Special to The Forum4 / 4

Most professional musicians have played instruments much longer than they've driven a car. Some pick up their first instrument as early as kindergarten.

Over the years, musicians dedicate their time and energy practicing their chosen instrument, learning from teachers who began their careers the same way.

No matter what instruments or type of music they play, most musicians share the same goal: never stop growing as artists.

Local professional musicians Debora Harris, Stephanie Carlson and Sonja Harasim share this goal. The three musicians have a lot in common: they teach at Concordia, perform in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra and are Jade Presents Arts Partnership grantees.

Harris (flutist), Carlson (oboist) and Harasim (violinist) each received a Jade Presents Arts Partnership grant, given through The Arts Partnership, in recognition of their outstanding talent in December. The grants provide local musicians financial support to help them achieve their individual artistic projects.

"We wanted to do something very tangible to encourage local musicians. Music of all kinds has such power to move and affect all of us positively," said Jade Nielsen, president of Jade Presents. "This is our way of giving back to those who bring so much to the community."

Debora Harris, an associate professor of flute at Concordia and the principal flutist in the F-M Symphony Orchestra, plans to develop a solo flute concert she calls "Flute Stories." The concert will incorporate multimedia elements in an intimate venue to encourage audience participation and bring the community together.

"The artistic challenge in playing an entire solo flute concert is finding repertoire that includes other sounds and experiences in addition to the flute," Harris said. "An entire concert of flute-only music might be monotonous, so I have found pieces that combine flute with electronic sounds and photography."

Harris has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world, including India, Honduras, Scotland and many other countries. She aims to incorporate her personal experiences in the concert by including music from other cultures and music composed by women.

Like Harris, oboist Stephanie Carlson shares an interest in highlighting female composers. Carlson's experience teaching Music History and Women in Music at Concordia led her to Ruth Gipps, a 20th century English oboist, pianist, composer and conductor who is virtually unknown in the United States.

Carlson hopes to use her grant funds to perform a recital of Gipps' early and late works at the International Double Reed Society (IDRS) conference in Appleton, Wisconsin in June.

"I view this recital as a first of many that could prominently feature the music of Ruth Gipps," Carlson said. "Her catalog includes dozens of works for woodwinds waiting to be performed ... I feel indebted to women like Ruth Gipps who helped blaze the path I am now able to follow."

Carlson also plans to perform recitals to smaller audiences in Fargo-Moorhead within the next year.

While Harris and Carlson's projects involve music not often heard, violinist Sonja Harasim is using her grant to commission a new piece of music for violin and piano by Dr. Richard Lavenda, one of her mentors from Rice University.

Harasim, an assistant professor of violin and viola at Concordia, serves as the associate concertmaster for the F-M Symphony. She enjoys collaborating with other musicians to create and perform new music, so she commissions new works when she can. One of Harasim's colleagues, a professor of piano at the University of Utah, will accompany her on piano.

"We often think of collaborating among musicians to perform a piece, but I love the collaboration process behind the scenes," Harasim said. "It's a beautiful thing to recreate the classics time and time again, but it's important to remember that all music was once new and if it had not been for performers or patrons that commissioned them, there would be no 'classic repertoire.'"

At this time, Lavenda's work is in progress.

Harris, Carlson and Harasim are three of six recipients of Jade Presents Arts Partnership grants. Other recipients include Ryan Hardy, organist; Ska Skank Redemption, ska band; and Varying Degrees Trio, percussion trio.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit